Bit by Bitcoin Mining

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You load sixteen tera-tons, what do you get?
Another day older and deeper in debt
Saint Peter, don’t you call me ’cause I can’t go
I owe my soul to the electrical store

As you already know, Bitcoin is all the rage. If I wrote this in 2017, then it would be true. In 2018, not so much. Bitcoin was valued at over $19,000 on some exchanges. The specter of government regulation has knocked this down somewhat.

Notwithstanding the price volatility, the benefits of mining Bitcoin remains attractive for those that know where to look. And by look, I mean looking for cheap electricity.

Back in the heyday, you could use a simple laptop to attempt to mine Bitcoin. Now for any chance of success, you have to run a server farm. Perhaps we can change the metaphor from mining, which suggests gold, to farming, which suggests easily washable boots.

Countless computers across the globe attempt to mine Bitcoin by solving an algorithm. This proves and validates the correctness of a new transaction. Every 10 mins or so, some lucky miner solves the algorithm and receives a reward of 12.5 Bitcoins. All the other computers verify this and then stop what they are doing and start at the beginning again.

If the entire process sounds wasteful, then you would be correct. The Bitcoin mining process now takes up more electricity than the majority of countries. Current estimated consumption is 61 TWh. Mining requires the equivalent of the yearly electrical requirement of Switzerland, and just a bit more than Columbia. This power could sustain over 5 million households. Just a short while ago, some pundits were claiming that mining Bitcoin would the major user of power by 2020. And like anything, projecting exponential growth from the past into the future never really pans out.

Mining produces revenues of $6.3 billion and costs of $3 billion, providing a substantial margin of 48% plus other costs.  Needless to say the carbon footprint of this type of mining is quite extensive since a number of countries rely on coal. China plans to limit the amount of electricity to miners which are estimated to be using up to 4 gigawatts of electricity, or about three nuclear reactors worth of energy. Plattsburg in the United States placed an 18 month moratorium on crypto mining owing to the extensive electrical use.

There is a lot of debate as to the actual electrical usage, but no one really knows what is happening in the black box. Suffice to say that a lot of energy is being wasted on chasing an algorithm that someone else will likely solve.

There are only a limited number of Bitcoins and more people are chasing them with increasing levels of computing power. The electrical requirements today are quite substantial since everyone has to obtain this ‘proof of work’ standard to qualify their Bitcoins. Think along the lines of will the sun rise tomorrow probability?  A lower standard such a ‘proof of stake’ may qualify but the security standard would be lacking. Think along the lines of will I rise tomorrow probability? Usually pretty good, but I might be wrong someday.

A single Bitcoin transaction takes the energy equivalent of thousands of credit card transactions. So actually the cost of a bitcoin transaction is more akin to ‘priceless’.

The security of Bitcoins do come into question since there has been substantial hacking in some countries. Bitcoin can be like the canary in the crypto-currency mining process. But instead of the canary dying, we are talking about the crypto canary disappearing completely. And instantly.

The disappearance of all remaining Bitcoin to be mined would be the signal that someone successfully created a quantum computer. The first use of such a computer would likely not be to solve the mysteries of the universe, but rather to solve the algorithm to grab the balance of the Bitcoins to be mined.

This may take ten years, or perhaps less. As Yogi Berra opines, it’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.

 

 

 

Photo by Make someones day from Pexels

 

 

 

Working with Insurance Companies Can be Fun

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The title may be a bit of misnomer since I don’t think most people ever had fun with insurance, or would at least admit to it. I just wanted to see what the words working, insurance and fun would look like together on the same line. Now that I look at it, the combination does not seem as engaging as I had hoped. So insurance may not necessarily be fun, but the people working there, well now you have something.

Going through law school, I thought it would be helpful to at least spend some time in an actual office setting just to see what that might be like. I spent the previous five field seasons up north or in some other remote part of the country. And when you live in Canada, remote means remote. I mainly spent this time catching, measuring, weighing, gutting and sexing fish. The last one simply meant determining what sex the fish was, not whatever popped into your mind first.

So when an opportunity came up to work downtown for an insurance company, I brushed off the fish scales from my resume and sent it in to their human resources. I got an interview quickly enough. This compelled me to buy a shirt, tie and some shoes that didn’t have to come up to my knees and have the essential component of being waterproof. Mind you, the tie was one of the neat woven ones. Whatever they make rope out of, I think this was about the same material. I could have used it to tow a car.

The interview process began easily enough. They were interested in my background and the fact that I had a previous science degree and one year of law. The company was bringing in a brand new process. A computer program that didn’t use those IBM punch cards. This is how far back we are going here. The company was relatively young. I don’t know for sure, but I don’t think any of their clients died yet to allow the beneficiaries a chance to claim any of the life insurance proceeds. The Company thought this was a great business model. People just give you money and there’s no outflow.

In any event, the interviewing manager asked me to write out a process on how to tie your shoes. This seemed relatively straight forward. I visualized what I would normally do. If I knew there was going to be a test on this I wouldn’t have worn my slip on hush puppies that day.

Anyway, I laid it out fairly simply in about 10 numbered steps. They looked it over, went out and talked, and came back in after a few minutes and surprisingly, they were somewhat surprised. No one they had interviewed before had bothered to write out a simple follow the numbers process. Everyone else, arts majors I suppose, wrote out a nice narrative prose with a beginning, middle with a bit of character development, and a dramatic unrequited love ending. Usually tragic. My stripped down version would have flunked me in English but I got an A as in accepted the position.

So, I started the following Monday. I never saw my boss again after that. She had been a few months pregnant at the time and her blood pressure shot up. She was told to stay off her feet. I’m fairly confident that I had nothing to do with that. Her blood pressure I mean.

So, I then reported to her boss instead. Unfortunately my first manager was the point person on this entire project and my new boss was not completely sure what was required. My title of methods analyst/technical writer didn’t quite make a lot of sense to him at the time or what I was supposed to be doing.

My new boss oozed management from every pore. He sported one of those stylish porn king type of mustaches that every male seemed to have back then. He walked fast, talked fast and thought just as fast. Whether he had directional plan on where he should be going or simply used confidence to make up for the lack of planning I couldn’t really tell. He could have launched himself off a pier, climbed back up wringing wet and confidently state that the launch went far better than expected.

So this gave me a fair bit of time to read up on what insurance actually did for people. I also walked around a fair bit and talked to people about what they did and sometimes why. Who I was and why I was there mystified some since without a proper introduction, I had a difficult time articulating why I was there. I epitomized the stranger in a strange land scenario, and I met with anyone that seemed friendly and not too scared of me. A few people did seem to be somewhat scared since they must have thought I was an efficiency expert or something. If I was documenting processes, well I could document them out of a job quite possibly. My emotional intelligence may not have been my best attribute. I merrily met with all those nice keypunch operators and innocently told them that this new system would likely mean that we didn’t have to do anymore keypunching. The fact that this was their livelihood didn’t strike me at the time.

The new computer manual on how to operate the system went on for hundreds of pages. The main issue seemed to be how to integrate this new system into the company’s operations. After completing my MBA years later, I learned the importance of overall change management. But back then, I was happily opening up new process grenades in the various departments. Without an immediate manager, my approach may have been a bit chaotic and a lot anarchic.

During one of the training demonstrations on the system, I looked up one of the shorter processes. Just to get my feet wet, now that I didn’t have to do that literally any longer. Fisheries you know. So I tried the log off process, entered some of the preliminary codes and my screen logged off. The interesting part was that all of the other terminals in room also logged off at the same time. I did learn the important difference between logging off, which is what I was trying to do, and a system shut down, which is what I actually did. For the entire company. I demonstrated the importance of having a practice dumbass sandbox for just this reason.

They gave me an office somewhere in the middle part of the hallway. My boss had his corner office a couple of floors up and overlooked the main street and some trees. He seemed to be far too busy to look out and see what was happening. He told me about the upper reserved floor. They reserved these floors for the most mythical of creatures.  Actuaries. He told me that it would be better if I didn’t interact or speak with them lest I startle or scare them away somewhat. These creatures demanded great penance at the time such was their ability to pack up and join another company. I don’t think I actually ever did meet one, not that it would have been obvious. Mid management always seemed to have their suit jackets off and sleeves rolled up. The actuaries always kept their jackets on. And although they didn’t have the single horn of the mythical unicorn for example, the actuaries always did present themselves as having an ethereal inner glow. This may have been more of a glow of self-satisfaction, but it was hard to tell at my respectful distance.

I also don’t think they allowed sales staff to mingle with the actuaries. If the other group ever found out what the others were thinking, it wouldn’t be an oil and water situation. It would be more like gasoline and electricity. Under controlled situations, the result can create tremendous power. In uncontrolled situations, well the result has never turned out to be optimal.

I came across a series of books that comprised the Insurance course at the time. I scanned the first book relatively quickly since it only covered the very basics. The second book became far more detailed in its accounting descriptions. That managed to dissuade me a bit more from reading further along the course. This increased my respect for numbers people, and I did keep my respective distance from the actuaries lest I scare one and be further responsible for a company-wide actuarial system shutdown.

I did spend a week speaking to some nice people in purchasing. They saw the opportunity of someone documenting their procedures for them. I am sure I must have tired them out with some constant quizzical questions and looks as to why they did what they did. Seeing something for the first time can give you that childlike sense of wonder. So annoying.

At the end of the summer I learned a fair bit about insurance and a lot about office politics. Some of the lessons may have been somewhat earth, myth and ideal shattering, but the experience put me in good stead for the rest of my office career.

They did offer me a job in some capacity. This would have meant giving up the law career which I had also fallen into. I politely declined, but I wonder about the road not taken at the time. Never too late perhaps.

 

 

Pixabay

Pixabay

 +Source: pixabay.com

Character Homes need insurance but demand sacrifice

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For several millennium, societies celebrated sacrifices towards their various deities. Some societies were interested in the harvest, some were interested in the hunt, and some were interested in a great ROI, return on investment. The last one seems to have taken great favor as of late. I am interested to see what will happen next. Perhaps in my lifetime, or perhaps the next one in that we will not worry about time, just life.

However, for now, our character home demands sacrifice. Perhaps not like a human sacrifice, even though that’s what it feels sometimes. It may be more along the lines of a needy toddler. A helpless infant has needs, but a toddler has even greater needs since they can get into reams of trouble if you are not constantly supervising. Our present house also had some growing pains.

Renovations to our 1912 home cost about twice as much as the price of our very first home, which was sort of tiny. In order to maintain the character of our character home, we didn’t alter anything you could actually see. We, and of course I mean they, only modified the things we could not see. Infrastructure.

A major one was the cast iron plumbing system. Cast Iron. Even the term sounds durable and worthy of any character home. It sounds like Iron Man. Strong, durable, invincible. Scared of lions.

The funny thing about iron of course is that it’s scared of lions. This sounds confusing, but the concept helped get me through chemistry in university. Using the concept of lions our professor taught us that lions were called LEO. A loss of electronics is oxidation. Whenever you have a LEO, you have GER. A gain of electronics is reduction.

Of course I am mainly talking about oxidation. Rust. Although our prof was a great teacher, I cannot look at any rusted object, and I mean any rusted object, without going through this entire LEO/GER subject in my mind. It can be exhausting.

So the cast iron plumbing seemed to have lasted for several decades. Ten decades appeared to be enough, so it seemed to be time to replace everything. Do you know how sometimes you go through a very traumatic event and you just hold things together until relief comes? Well, this is what happened to the cast iron. The house saw or realized that relief was here and collapsed into our arms.

We, and I mean they, tracked down and replaced all the cast iron running up the walls and replaced it with an even more durable metal. I think it may be platinum. Or beryllium. I am just going by the cost as opposed to actually looking what’s there.

We established a very trusting and close relationship with all of our contractors. I simply kept a cardboard box full of cash outside the front door with a little sign saying ‘Help yourself’. I think the occasional stranger did help themselves but I didn’t mind so much since it cost me less than the contractors.[1]

The replacement of the cast iron kept everyone happy. Any by this I actually mean our insurance brokers. I didn’t know that cast iron replacement was even ‘a thing’, but apparently the failure of cast iron really is a thing. The brokers would come around and ask questions about the replacement and what stage things were at. I thought we were at 99%, but even being a little bit pregnant still gets a check mark of the ‘CAST IRON’. Insurance premiums reflected this accordingly. I think they finally managed to get that last little bit of cast iron out. The cost of doing that was unfortunately not offset by the long-term savings in insurance premiums, but it was worth a shot.

Since we had seven people living in the house at one time, we installed two additional hot water heaters. The third floor water heater for the kids had to be electric since there was no way to run natural gas up to the third floor. In order to install this electric water heater, we, meaning they, had to cram it into a slanted closet. This meant that the heater could only be half the size of a regular heater.

I recommend this fix for any parent with teenagers. Telling them they are getting their own separate water heater may sound like a bonus to them. No more complaints. They don’t really have to know the size restrictions on overall hot water available at any one time. Your secret would be safe with me.

Soon the electrical system demanded sacrifices. This became immediately apparent when my in-laws presented my wife and me with a very generous gift of a chandler to go into the dining room. The chandler appeared way too heavy to be installed by mortal persons, I doubled my personal efforts by doubling the size of the cardboard box outside holding the free cash. This attracted other saviors.

The electrician savior removed the existing light fixture, more of a kerosene holder it seemed like, and suggested we have a look. Instead of your normal electrical utility box, there was just a wire hanging out of the ceiling. And not your normal plastic wire. The wire had the look of a black snake. And not a shiny new black snake. But a frayed black snake that died while it was shedding its skin and disgorging the contents of its stomach at the same time. Not pretty.

So there was none of the safety utility boxes infrastructure that would contain sparks from the electricity. And one would think that sparking would be common since nothing basically separated the hot wire from anything else. And there was no support to even hold up the chandler in the first place. So that discovery initiated another series of changes trying to run wiring throughout the house.

After a while, I realized that running new wiring did not necessarily mean removing the old wiring. In the basement there is a maze of those old ceramic pillars and posts running old black snake-skin electrical wires. We will have to get that done eventually also.

Every time we get someone new in, they look around in awe somewhat. They have that ‘I’ve heard about but never seen one of these before!’ kind of looks. I find their sense of awe helpful. It helps me decide the size of the new cardboard box I have to get for the front door.

I am fearfully waiting for the open jaw assessment when we finally get around to removing the asbestos from that pipe in the boiler. Do they still make those cardboard boxes for moving hanging clothes? I remember them from the 60s anyway.

Another fun thing we have not gotten around to changing would be the thermostat. It’s basically just a brass speaking tube that communicates with the basement asking the worker to add more coal to the furnace. Actually, the brass extensions have been removed and you can only see the brass connections in the baseboard. Just in case.

Actually what we still use is a round iconic Honeywell thermostat. One of these classics can be found in the Smithsonian apparently. On ours if you pop off the cover, you can see a goodly sized spring with a small container of mercury sliding around in a glass capsule. I do remember playing around with these things when I was younger. When I moved the dial back and forth I could see the mercury blob around as it sparked when making contact with the electrical connectors. More often than not, I would remember to put the temperature back where it should have been. This amused me than I care to mention.

Funny thing about that style of thermostat.

We do get our place cleaned professionally once a month. Being busy professionals with two large, shedding golden retrievers, getting someone in has been a major relief. But the two young, very eager to please, cleaners are not familiar with the 1950 style of round thermostat and how they work or what they do. No digital readouts here.

So when dusting the thermostat, the impact on the house depends on whether they dust the dial on the thermostat in a clockwise or counter-clockwise movement.

One fine winter day, one of the cleaners wiped the thermostat in a clockwise motion. This drove the heater to the top of the scale. And like any boiler on an old navy ship, you don’t notice it right away. Usually it takes the following day.

One day after the cleaners leave, the house seemed unnaturally warm. We are used to that since the temperatures outside can drop dramatically, it takes time for the house to accommodate the temperatures. But this time one of the radiators began spitting out scalding steams and bits of boiling water. I guess about 10 years ago I removed one of the regulators from a radiator to allow more heat to warm up sunroom.  However, my little ‘life hack’ did become immediately apparent that I removed the safety device. In my defense my intentions were good and pure. I tried to get heat into the room where we kept a lot of our potted plants for the winter so that they would get the necessary sun. But I got busted and schooled. So, I mopped up the water and reinstalled the safety regulator.

We should have mentioned the thermostat issue to the cleaners.

Because, there was another funny thing about that.

After the cleaners finished on another occasion during the winter, my wife and I headed out to the cottage with our two dogs. We spent a lovely day snowshoeing, making dinner, cuddling by the fire. Later that night, at 2 am, I get a call from the security company. They have a low temperature signal from our house.

This becomes a major issue since no one is in the house to say what is happening. I enter a bit of a panic mode and start calling the emergency line for the plumbers. It’s early Sunday morning and who knows if anyone will be available till Monday. I get someone on the line and tell them the situation so we have a backup plan.

My wife and I pack everything up and within an hour we are back on the road for the 90 minute drive back to the house. Of course we have a bit of freezing rain and snow happening so the roads are exceptionally treacherous. This is when I am particularly driven to get back to the house in a hurry. Getting trapped in the ditch would be a good half day wait for a tow truck assuming they could find you.

We don’t end up in the ditch and we finally arrive home. The house is not all that cold at about 10 degree centigrade, 50 degrees Fahrenheit. I head down to the basement and check out the boiler. It rests quietly.

The water to the boiler appears to be still on and working. The moat surrounding the boiler remains empty and the boiler has not disgorged its contents. No major catastrophic failures at the very least.

I turn the main breaker off and on to see if that wakes the boiler. I have never done this before, but what could go wrong? I mean I have never kicked a hibernating grizzly before, but I am sure that would end badly. They are both the same size, coloration and, most likely, disposition. Nothing happens. Good or bad.

I remove the main panel and see that the pilot light is still burning in a chipper fashion. Ready for action.  The little pilot finally lights a little thought in my mind. I head back up the second floor bedroom and see that the cleaners were in a counter-clockwise cleaning mood that day. The thermostat has been cleaned all the way over to off essentially. I turn the temperature back to normal and I immediately hear the ‘whoosh’ as the boiler furnace momentarily removes all oxygen from the basement and starts burning merrily. It looks more like a cheerful conflagration as I replace the panel on boiler.

So, exciting times. But well worth it for such as staid looking and satisfied character home.

[1] Old modified joke, but I couldn’t resist.

Taxed into a State of Liberty

taxes-tax-evasion-police-handcuffsThose who give up liberty for security deserve neither.

I used to love this quote from Benjamin Franklin. This was up to the time when I learned he actually didn’t say that. He did say the following on behalf of the Pennsylvania Assembly in its reply to the Governor in 1755:

Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.

Apparently he was actually writing about a tax dispute between the assembly and the Penns family, the proprietary family of the colony who ruled from afar. The assembly was trying to tax the Penn family lands to pay for frontier defense during one of the many wars. The Penn family wanted the governor to veto the tax. The Penn family was trying to give a lump sum of money in exchange for the Assembly to acknowledge it did not have the authority to tax it.  So it seems Franklin was actually being pro-taxation and pro-defense spending. Essentially he defends the authority of the legislature to govern in the interests of collective security. He was basically talking about money. Trying to explain a quote like this tends to be like buying catfish in the store. Gutted and filleted, you can’t recognize it for what it actually was before, but you prefer the way it looks now regardless. Packaged and tidy.

 

The use of the pithier quote really picked up in the 2000s. The shorter modified form works quite well when talking about government surveillance and the like. I should have included a spoiler alert. Hopefully the saying isn’t spoiled for too many of you and I will likely go back to spouting the older, incorrect but far pithier version. At least verbally. Using an incorrect quote on the internet never seems to work out well for those that try it.

 

We move forward a few years and we can see that Jefferson makes an even more popular use of the term Liberty in the Declaration.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.

This is likely the most well-known sentence in the US. There may be a few lines of poetry that are more well know, but we all know what people think about poetry. A major point here is that Jefferson claims that everyone already has the right to Liberty. No one has to give it to you, but someone can certainly keep you from exercising it properly. It took quite a bit of needless suffering before these rights were recognized for all people in the United States. A couple of visits to The National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis opened my eyes to the struggles people had to make things right.

 

Jefferson went on to describe Liberty as “unobstructed action according to our will within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others.” Back then the founding generation wanted no restraints and accepted that any failures would be theirs to bare. This other part of liberty about limits drawn around us seems to get lost a bit in all of the shouting back and forth.

 

Once again, the modern-day concept seems to have drifted somewhat away from what they meant back then. Today we think more of the state of being free within society from oppressive restrictions imposed by authority on one’s way of life, behavior, or political views.  Or at least that’s what I thought once I looked it up since I actually hadn’t thought about it much. The entire concept of liberty is somewhat different from freedom which some people see as being able to do whatever the hell they want unaffected by laws. This group tends to confuse political laws with natural laws. The natural law of gravity always exists, on earth anyway. The winners of the Darwin awards always seem to reinforce the existence of the law of gravity and how rapid deceleration after a fall always has a negative effect.

 

I rarely exercised my right to liberty by voting unfortunately. I did think that I was exercising my liberty by deciding to not stand in-line in a school gym to mark a piece of paper. Apparently I wasn’t being so much exercising my right not to vote as simply being a lazy jerk instead.

 

I liked to think of myself as an anarchist. And not the type in a cloak that always seems to be carrying around one of those small round bombs with the fuse. I will have you know that when I was 12 I stopped experimenting with gunpowder the moment my mom refused to buy me any more ingredients.

 

An anarchist advocates stateless societies based on voluntary associations. So there is no system of government or central rule. This is sort of like being married where no one is really in charge. Although every husband I know recognizes that there is always a first among equals. Happy life you know.

 

I slowly realized that I like the concept of roads, schools, and the proper co-ordination of aviation. I like my traffic controllers and aviation engineers to be governmentally regulated almost to death. Only the survivors get to carry on with their thankless job. And for this, we continue to not thank them.

 

And hospitals. I think hospitals are going to be big in my future someday. They must be regulated to death since that’s where a lot of that happens.

 

Getting back to liberty instead of death, which would also make a good slogan, I made a poor impression upon all of my children who eventually became more and more engaged in the political process. Two of my kids got involved with the campaigns of various politicians. I didn’t know who the politicians were, or what they stood for, but damn it I was going to support the kids. Even though they were out of school, this became like a very expensive school project.

 

They were making pamphlets, arranging fundraisers and going door to door to speak to people. They were doing all these things I had never gotten involved with before. I had this mixture of admiration for them and embarrassment for myself. I’m not sure where this political involvement gene came from, but it may have been from their grandparents. Or board and video games. My kids spent a lot of time playing Risk, the world domination game. I am not sure if this was much better than the video games advocating violence but on a smaller scale.

 

So, I started contributing towards the various campaigns. I even purchased a table at one the major functions and managed to get my name on the placeholder. Another politician from the adjacent province who was attending our gala came over and shook my hand and noticed that I had purchased the table for everyone. This made me feel like one of the real big shots that work in this ethereal atmosphere of political movers and shakers. He didn’t ask me any political policy questions fortunately since I had no positions on anything. I did grab one of my kids and place him in front of this guy. Let them do the networking.

 

I did find that a number of people working the campaign and going door to door would not be the type of person I would normally open the door to if they knocked. They seemed to be very passionate about things that somehow were not deserving of passion. Perhaps their passion seemed forced, contrived, or just a bit off. They could easily get worked up about some point of view which I could not even really tell the difference between the two positions being argued. I could easily back away from such situations and they would continue in my absence.

 

In one instance my adult daughter and I were talking to an elder statesman at the gala. I am not sure how, but suddenly I noticed a dollar coin at my feet. Apparently the elder fellow dropped it. My daughter, much younger and faster leaned over to pick it up and handed it back to the fellow. He flashed me the largest shit-eating grin and promptly dropped it on the floor again. It flashed through my mind that I should drop him on the floor as opposed to having my daughter bend over and pick it up again.

 

I think he was eventually kicked out of the party. Or he died. Or maybe he was just dead to me after that. No matter.

 

John Mill describes political liberty as not being under legal restraint except those passed by their own constituted law making power according to the trust put into it.

Interestingly, there appears to be some implied cultural prerequisites to all of this. Madison said that ‘to suppose that any form of government will secure liberty or happiness without any virtue in the people is a chimerical idea.” Apparently he is saying that similar to the rides at fair ground ‘you have to be this virtuously tall’ before being allowed to play in and with the rights outlined in the Declaration. This gets us back to the previously described life of virtue being the happy life.

 

This virtue precondition of Madison is an intriguing idea that may explain a lot about the increasing size of government which may have to step in and legislate and regulate the areas that people need a little encouraging reminder as what virtue may require. Just look at the tax code. If you like having schools, roads and civil aviation that works a very high percentage of the time, then just pay your damn taxes.

If you want tax equality, then you will have to ring that liberty bell a little harder.

 

 

Pixabay

Pixabay

+Source: pixabay.com

 

 

 

Trickster Trees and Nature Deficit Disorder

pexels-photo-38136 (2)When you buy a cottage this becomes a great opportunity to deposit old things or buy new things. And, if I may generalize for a moment, the first thing that a guy wants includes a gas-powered chain saw to deal with deadfall. Or at least this guy anyway.

 

Our cottage property and the crown land on the water side contains a couple hundred trees. Some birch, oak, and a lot of ash and poplars. The poplars grow at an amazing rate. We have dozens of poplars leaning haphazardly either towards or away from the cottage. Some of the leaning away ones lean bravely against some of the nasty and sometimes larger leaning towards the cottage ones. The nasty ones generally have a diameter of 18 inches or so, with shallow roots. These trees contain an amazing amount of water and then become exceedingly heavy.

 

When cutting trees, I use all of the necessary safety gear. Safety glasses, steel toed boots and that ‘nothing can hurt me fool-hearty immortality’ that some of us carry around. I should have lost this in high school, but some remnants stuck.

 

We can get some very heavy winds off of Lake Winnipeg. One morning I stepped out and saw that one poplar partially broke and hung up on another tree. I am somewhat pleased since this would be, should have been, a no risk situation. At that angle, the tree can only fall in one direction. The tree surrounded by forest at the edge of our property cannot damage anything. Or so it appeared.

 

The tree broke partially off about three feet off the ground, fell a few feet and a major branch from another tree stopped it. So I started cutting the broken tree four feet off the ground. It’s already at a 45 degree angle, so there is now a top and a bottom part of the trunk. I cut a little bit from the top side of the trunk, but no so much that it binds the saw. Then I cut the rest from the underneath part of the trunk as the wedge starts to open from the weight of the tree.

 

Then the most amazing thing happened.

 

You know how a tire on a rope swings from a branch? Sort of like a pendulum effect. If you really shove the tire hard, it gets to the far side of its pendulum and comes swinging back to you. And you have to watch your face depending on hard you pushed.

 

Here the tree I just finished cutting swung like a pendulum as it was hinged at the top by another branch. The bottom of the tree managed to clear the ground and swing to the far side. Again managing to miss every other tree. But by the time it swung to the far side, the branch acting as the pivot point swung far enough to suddenly let go. Without the pivot at the top to bring the bottom of the tree back to where I was, the entire tree entered what I would call a free fall state. I entered a mesmerized state. The top of the tree was now falling directly on top of me.

 

All the books, ok book, ok ok operating manual, I read on chainsaws said of course to know which way the tree should fall and to stay out of this line. The manual said nothing about a duplicitous tree that did a complete 180 degree change in the way it was falling. The book did say never turn your back on a falling tree.  Trees are tricky that way.

 

According to the insurance industry, a 50 foot tree with a 12 inch diameter weighs 2000 pounds. I dropped the saw. It would have to cope on its own.  This still seems stupid even on reflection, but I put both hands up and used the falling tree trunk to push myself out of the way. I would like to think that my karate skills deflected the tree, but no amount of stupid can deflect a 2000 pound tree.

 

So I did manage to learn something without getting one of those Darwin awards for being naturally selected out of the gene pool. Too late for that anyway. My stupid genes infiltrate the gene pool. But I do have a mild aversion to swing sets. And when I walk through the forest I constantly check for any trickster trees that may be following me.

 

However, I believe the trees do talk to one another. I encountered one other tree that had it in for me. One monster poplar started leaning even more precariously towards the cottage. This was a good 18 inch thick one, so it had a great deal of height and weight. The overall fall would be more towards the front of the cottage and our newly constructed deck.

 

But I have fallen a few dangerous poplars by this time. Never something quite this large or quite this heavy. But if you play the stock market during a rising economy, then every trade makes you look brilliant. So it all works out. Till suddenly it doesn’t.

 

My normal practice became to tie a rope several feet up and attach it to a come-along pulley system. Normally I can get enough tension on the pulley to angle the tree just to where I want it if the tree leans in a direction that I do not want it to fall.

 

I do like trees. Some of the elms we have on our city property are 100 years old and three feet in diameter. I think of them as sentient type creatures similar to whales. Well, back at the cottage, I lined up my Moby Dick poplar tree and got the tension nice and tight. I am quite good, I thought, of cutting the proper wedges in a tree to create a hinge that directs how the tree might fall. With some of the base cut out, I can then pulley the tree even further in the direction I wanted.

 

However, Moby had other plans. After cutting out a portion of the base, the pulley system tightened and some of the ropes started springing a few threads from the increased strain. Moby pulled ever so slightly in the opposite direction I wanted. Moby definitely wanted to see what it would be like to have a coffee on the cottage deck.

 

I tried cranking the pulley even more but nothing was going to straighten this guy out any further. I needed a way of this situation that had a delicate line between the ‘everything went fine honey’ and the ‘I am so fucked’ result. A fat gray line did not exist here.

 

Fortunately, we have a Rob. Everyone needs a Rob. Rob owns an auto body shop and knows just about everything mechanical, electrical and basic woodworking. I sauntered over to get some ideas. It may have been faster than that. But fortunately, he’s next door and came by to appraise the situation.

 

He goes back to his place and comes back with even more rope and his all-terrain vehicle. This time he tells to take my ladder and rope the tree as high up as I can reach.

 

Now Moby hasn’t moved for several minutes, but neither has he relaxed into this position. He looks ready for destruction. Climbing up the side of this would not be my first option, but I had no other options. After a bit, I managed to wrap the rope a good 12 feet off the ground snag a major branch to keep if from slipping down.

 

Rob ties the rope on the back of his ATV. By experience, he knows to have an extra 20 feet on the rope than what the top of the tree can reach when it falls.

 

I cut the last bit of the wedge, call to him and he takes off in the ATV. He manages to pull the tree in the exact opposite direction from the cottage. No coffee on the deck for Moby this time round. I thank Rob profusely.

 

Asking others for help has never come very easy for me. Not sure why. It might be the entire awkward social interaction thing perhaps. I have now gotten myself to the point that if there is a possibility I may destroy the entire cabin, I will call on someone to help avert that.

 

 

 

 

 

Photo by veeterzy from Pexels https://www.pexels.com/photo/nature-forest-trees-park-38136/

Nature Deficit Disorder and the Cottage Preseason Opener

pexels-photo-42240Nature deficit disorder appears to be a real thing and spending time at the cottage provides a great fix. As part of this, my family and I have been unintentionally creating additional habitat for various invasive species for almost 17 years.

We purchased an A-frame cottage on Lake Winnipeg to get closer to nature.The two-story cottage and the open design allow everyone in the family their own personal space. The metal roof and cedar siding keeps out the elements, but not the rodents, which need their own personal space.

Opening the cottage after a long winter became a joyous occasion for the family. The main reason for this joy includes my travelling to the cottage by myself beforehand and conducting a cottage preseason opener. Like baseball spring training, I do some preliminary cleaning to work out the bugs. And of course by bugs, I do mean insects and other things that would drive away family members till the incident was forgotten.

In the first year, the flat roof over the sunroom leaked. The good news was that the vapor barrier captured all the water. The bad news was that these bags of tarry water hanging from the ceiling pushed out the ceiling tiles and made the room reminiscent of Invasion of the Body Snatchers.  Making an incision in the hanging cocoon and draining the water remedied the situation.

We recently installed a small outdoor hot tub that we can plug-in for the summer. When lifting the lid for the first time of the season, I ask please don’t let me find a dead small mammal inside. This is only exceeded by the triple please of don’t let me find a terrified, alive and wanting to escape small mammal inside. So far, we have been good.

When cleaning outside, I use the gas-powered leaf blower to man-dust the decks. I do walk through the cottage, engine off, to clean the upper deck. Only a few times has it passed my mind to quickly man-dust the interior. Who would really know? But there are the gas fumes. So next year I am so going electric leaf blower. The gas blower works very well in the garage, especially if no one is watching.

Inside the cottage, checking all of the furniture, particular the beds, for mouse droppings, comes next. We keep the cottage warm during the winter, so finding a soft fluffy mouse nest in one of the beds is not beyond consideration. A mouse nest would require a cathartic cleansing of the linens. And by cleansing, I mean burning.

Cleaning inside causes a bit less stress. The freezer has to be cleaned out to make room for the coming summer. Sometimes this means tossing everything. Sometimes this means not letting things go to waste. This spring I had to dispose of a half container of crystalized ice cream, and by dispose of I mean eat. It tasted liked solidified sugar. And regret.

The main event involves crawling beneath the cottage. We have this area closed in, insulated and covered in plastic. Dark, dusty, bit mildewy, no one could hear you scream, if you even had the chance.

One late fall, some mid-sized mammals had moved in underneath the cottage. The tunnel they dug underneath the wall enclosing the bottom of the cottage allowed the cold winter air to directly hit the pipe coming up out of the ground from the well pump. This resulted in no well water for the rest of the winter and no working toilets. So during the summer, I closed off their hole and installed more furnace venting to direct heat towards the corner to prevent the pipes from freezing. The following winter, the hole was redug, and the venting was ripped apart. Apparently they didn’t like the air flow. They continued to show their displeasure by scat throughout the level beneath the cottage. Mid-size mammal droppings are a general sign to be careful, but I would swear that the droppings were arranged into an actual sign that said ‘stay away’. It may have been the darkness.

The forested property provides a tremendous view of the lake, which with the waves can look more like the ocean. Lake Winnipeg suffers from some eutrophication. Surface runoff from the extensive watershed and fertilizer use creates algae blooms. These blooms create green waves with the consistency of green paint. Waves glurp when hitting the shore. And waves should never glurp. Not a sound you want to have alongside your morning coffee.

At some point during the summer the sun brings out the flowers and butterflies. When the family comes to the cottage, the BBQ comes out, along with the home-made beer, bicycles and kayaks. This sooths the nature deficit disorder somewhat, and we continue to get inoculated as often as possible. There remains a difference between watching nature, and nature watching you. Nature normally comes at night, with many pairs of eyes that appear to glow in the dark. But, we are intervening into nature’s arena and we should be respectful. And watchful. Always watchful.

 

 

Photo by mali maeder from Pexels https://www.pexels.com/photo/snow-wood-forest-winter-42240/

The new immortals: What legal status should be granted to artificially intelligent persons? -Canadian Lawyer

pexels-photo-97077Immortals shall soon walk among us. They may also crawl, roll and perhaps hover. Yes, definitely hover. The immortals refer to artificially intelligent persons, and by “us” I mean natural persons.

The European Parliament Committee on Legal Affairs recently released a report recognizing that humankind stands on the threshold of an era of sophisticated robots and other manifestations of artificial intelligence. The committee saw the need to legislate this area relatively quickly as self-driving cars are making their appearance. The fundamental question is what sort of legal status should be granted to AIPs? Natural persons want to avoid any “Battle of the AIPs” future scenarios.

A reference to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus dramatically starts off the committee’s report. The committee thought that by addressing people’s real concerns upfront, they could deal with the more substantive issues. The committee recognizes that people have fantasized about the possibility of building intelligent machines and of achieving potential unbounded prosperity. The committee does not mention drones with laser canons, but you just know they were all fantasizing about that.

Other person “types” provide potential guidance. Corporations occupy a separate category of legal persons in an attempt to reach personhood. A corporation is a legal person by legislation. In the 1973 sci-fi film by the same name, Soylent Green may be people, but corporations are not people. “Corporations are people, my friend,” said U.S. presidential hopeful Mitt Romney in 2011, and Democrats took him to task for this statement. “I don’t care how many times you try to explain it,” U.S. president Barack Obama said at one point. “Corporations aren’t people. People are people.” A person falls into the legislative definition of a natural person, and the corporate experience shows where the AIP legal status question may end up.

Corporations have first amendment rights and can advocate for certain political parties. Should AIPs be provided similar rights, and if they could vote for a particular party, what sort of governmental structure would they prefer? Anarchy would be a good bet, and not the cloak and molotov cocktail carrying kind. German philosopher Immanuel Kant identified anarchy as “law and freedom without force.” AIPs would not have the billions of years of upbringing requiring force to deal with predators and competitors. They might learn that on their own, and perhaps to our detriment.

Corporations can own property but don’t have personal privacy rights. One can imagine AIPs creating new patentable types of software. If your AIP demanded privacy, what would your reaction be? Once your teenager makes the same request in your house, your first compulsion might be to sack the room and look for drugs or an old-fashioned diary. For an AIP, would you look for secret caches of information, or heaven forbid, mind-expanding cloud-based storage?

Corporations can also divide like an amoeba and create brand new little entities. One can easily imagine AIPs creating more advanced AIPs. Shelley’s creature demanded that Frankenstein “create a female for me with whom I can live in the interchange of those sympathies necessary for my being.” If AIPs created little AIPs, should we — could we — stop them? The age of consent does not apply here. An AIP could easily become “older” than any builder if an AIP can download the wisdom of the ages overnight and join the ancients. How could one supervise this potential procreation proclivity in AIPs? In Canada, the government has no role in the bedrooms of the nation. The U.S. government appears to be in every intelligent device, so it may be supervising already.

In describing artificial intelligence, the committee outlines how the present legislation does not encompass machines that become autonomous and self-aware. A machine can be built, loaded with software and then go on to learn from its environment. This new environmental learning suggests that the AIP can determine its own actions and learn from its experience and failures. AIPs have an advantage here since the majority of natural persons still struggle with learning from failure.

If an AIP can decide its own actions and causes harm, then legal liability can shift from the builder over to the teacher providing the environment. If an AIP can operate independently with its environment and be held accountable for its own actions, then it could be held strictly liable. Strict liability requires that a plaintiff show that the damage occurred and a causal link. This differs from negligence in that there is no need to establish the same duty of care, standard of care and breach of that duty of care. Strict liability would be allocated between builder and eventual teacher. The teacher and the surrounding environment impacts the liability shift between builder and teacher. This shift would be extremely difficult to establish in that it may take a village to raise a child, but a vast social media network environment raises an AIP.

The committee suggests an ethical framework of beneficence, nonmaleficence and autonomy, and fundamental rights such as human dignity and human rights, equality, justice and equity, non-discrimination and non-stigmatization, autonomy and individual responsibility, informed consent, privacy and social responsibility. Whether these ethics and fundamental rights will be offered to AIPs remains unclear, but sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.

Natural people tend to anthropomorphize animals and objects, and this tendency may provide greater rights to AIPs. Do you feel bad if your kitchen table ensnares your Roomba? Would you feel even worse if it was trapped and you had earlier placed googly eyes on the Roomba? If so, then you would likely agree that AIPs are entitled to receive ethical and compassionate treatment. But would they need it or are we simply making ourselves feel better?

The committee suggests the need to include a kill switch (opt-out mechanisms). I will shorten this to “OOM.” The OOM euphemism provides somewhat of a guilt release. Humanity can delude itself in the belief it has control over any situation, but as Kurt Vonnegut Jr. wrote in The Sirens of Titan, “The only controls available to those on board were two push-buttons on the center post of the cabin — one labeled on and one labeled off. The on button simply started a flight from Mars. The off button connected to nothing. It was installed at the insistence of the Martian mental-health experts, who said that human beings were always happier with machinery they thought they could turn off.” If you have difficulty in OOMing your faithful Roomba, think how hard it might be if it asked you to reconsider.

To alleviate this OOM situation, I would recommend that readers take their favourite mind/body relaxant and consider the following: Consider if, instead of immortality, AIPs live a limited number of years. Science fiction covers both ends of the spectrum of planned obsolescence of the most brutal kind to the inability to self-terminate. If we incorporated a pre-determined lifespan, would we tell our AIPs the exact date? We could leave the date determination to a random number generator entitled Final Actual Time Expiry, or FATE. Perhaps again, sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.

 

Previously on Canadian Lawyer

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Negative Space

Source: negativespace.co